The World Health Organization warns physical inactivity can lead to the development of debilitating noncommunicable diseases and millions of premature deaths.
Data from 194 countries show governments are not doing enough to encourage their populations to engage in physical activity, including creating the opportunities for people to be more active and move around freely.
For example, the World Health Organization reports too few countries encourage active and sustainable transport. It notes just over 40% of countries have road design standards that make walking and cycling safer.
Fiona Bull, head of WHO’s physical activity unit within the Department of Health Promotion, said this neglect results in staggering economic, physical, and mental costs.
“Our estimates indicate that $27 billion a year or up to 2030, $300 billion dollars (in costs) could be averted if we increased physical activity,” she said. “It estimated that 500 million new cases of key important NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) and mental health conditions could be prevented by increasing physical activity.”
The report says nearly 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other noncommunicable diseases by 2030 due to inactivity.
Latest global estimates show 1.4 billion adults do not do enough physical activity to improve and protect their health. In 2016, it said, levels of inactivity among adults in high-income countries were double those in low-income countries.
The report finds women in most countries are less active than men, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean region and in the Americas. Juana Willumsen, technical officer in WHO’s physical activity unit, attributed this difference to lack of opportunities for women to engage in physical activity.
“Often women are finding it harder to access opportunities, finding it harder to find time to be physically active and to incorporate that within their day,” she said. “As well as many cultural barriers to physical activity. There are some cultures in which it is not currently seen as acceptable or appropriate for women to be active.”
The World Health Organization recommends adults engage in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. For children, it recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
The good news is people do not have to run a marathon or participate in the Tour de France to stay healthy. WHO officials said all sorts of physical activity such as climbing stairs, walking, playing with the children, and doing household chores, are beneficial for health.
What is important, they said, is to keep moving.